“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
- Acts 10:9-23
I was watching an interview on Dinner Conversations the other day between Andrew Grier and Montel Jordan. Montel Jordan may be famous for the song “This is how we do it,” but he is now a worship pastor in Atlanta, GA.
Montel Jordan said something along the lines of “If your church does not have someone who does not look like you, go get one.” I thought for a second that he was talking about blatant tokenism, but he went on to explain that we need to ask people about their culture. We need to ask people about what foods they eat. We need to really get to know them.
I grew up Presbyterian. I still attend a Presbyterian church because I like the worship style and the style of music, but there is no perfect denomination out there on this earth nor is there a perfect church, until we get to Heaven. Yet, I was commenting with a pastor, he commented that he was a reformed ordained minister, possibly Presbyterian. Presbyterians consider themselves “reformed” as opposed to “protestant.” My reply to his comment was that I had always been a Presbyterian, but at times I wonder if I am not a “reformed” school drop-out. When we get to Heaven, we will find out that we were all wrong about something, and it will not matter at all. Here on earth – fighting words; there – no one will notice once we are in God’s presence. Those differences will disappear. If they are minor differences, then we are still worshipping the same Jesus.
I bring that up in that there are committees and teams in Presbyterian churches. You are friendly with those people that you know, but when it comes to assimilating people into church life, most people rely on the committees to do that. My wife has asked new members and regular visitors to come to our Sunday school class, but she rarely got a positive response.
With that as a backdrop, we have skin color diversity in our church. We have several black families. We have had Korean and Chinese adopted children. We have had Korean and Chinese families, but it seems they have all moved on. We have had people from India. We have had people, and presently have them, from Central America and Mexico. But in many of these cases, their growth of that group has been non-existent, and it seems no one approached them to learn their culture, food choices, etc. We left that to the committee, and someone buried that concept in committee discussion. Meaning? We are too busy with other things. The black families have assimilated into church life, but none of the other groups stayed long enough. Although for a year or so, one of the Korean ladies sang in the choir. Then suddenly, they no longer attended.
Montel Jordan was basically saying in the interview that if we do not embrace the culture of those who do not look like us, they will not feel welcome. Jordan talked of intentionally having people over to his home for a meal and making the group diverse, so that everyone could enjoy the diversity of culture while realizing that we all worship the same God – assuming they were all Christians.
In my many travels around the world, I loved to people watch. I learned about the religions and the things that might cause offense – like never point the toes of your feet toward the statue of Buddha. I was not as adventurous as my companions when it came to the food, but even in dining etiquette, the rules change from country to country, and from formal dining to casual dining to family dining. Sorry, I cannot remember which way you point chopsticks. I think it is offensive to point them at someone else at the table, but I’m not sure. And as I taught classes to people of varying cultures, mostly men, I tried to learn about their favorite sports and their sports heroes. I had long discussions with people in India over cricket, a game I have never played, but when I mentioned Tendulkar, their eyes lit up with glee. In case you are unfamiliar with cricket, Sachin Tendulkar is considered one of the greatest batsmen in cricket history and was the captain of the India team about the time I had the discussion. I did my research before ever going to the country.
My wife has given her talk about growing up in Indonesia with several different church groups. My wife is Eurasian: father, Dutch, and mother, Indonesian (a mixture of European, native islander including Java and Bali, and some Chinese). My wife has treated the church groups to Indonesian cuisine, enlisting me as her helper on occasion. I can stir with the best of them, and I have been known to make great fried bananas. But even with all that, it almost made my wife more of an outsider. “She is not like us.” Maybe that is just our perception and my wife is so extroverted that everyone knows that she can carry a conversation with an ever-present smile. The “outsider” label is not there overtly. But to be honest, she might as well give her talks in Swahili or more appropriately a native Indonesian dialect, because no one in southwest Pennsylvania can dream of relating or understanding an 8-10ft or longer python crawling inside your spare tires that are stacked in the garage, or watching a leper play the flute blowing into the flute with his nose – for obvious reasons, or watching someone loyal to the Dutch (or a Christian) get hanged in the banyan tree in the front yard during the war for Indonesian independence, or watching the orangutan who was doing nothing other than sitting in the banyan tree, watching her. And by the way, in Indonesia, according to my wife, orangutan is pronounced “O-ran-Gu-tan,” and roll the “R.” These are among the many stories that most folk simply consider “stories.” They stand amazed at how different life is in other countries without trying to understand the culture, without trying to adjust their comfort zone to relate to the other person. Passively entertained without trying to relate or assimilate.
Montel Jordan is right in that a church without cultural diversity will only be able to serve a portion of their own community. And most churches fail in taking the effort to understand others in their own community. It is hard to show God’s Love when we expect the other person to adjust to our culture while we stand firm in our comfort zone. We need to be firm in our beliefs, but malleable when it comes cultural diversity, at least enough to show hospitality.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.